Yahoo Is Trapping Users Who Want to Leave Its Service in Wake of Hacks

yahoo email forwarding hack
A Yahoo logo is pictured in front of a building in Rolle, Switzerland, December 12, 2012. Yahoo is preventing users from leaving its email service by blocking automatic email forwarding. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Users of Yahoo’s email service are being thwarted from leaving for a rival provider after the company disabled an email forwarding feature.

The move follows news that Yahoo agreed to scan all its users’ incoming emails on behalf of a U.S. intelligence agency in 2015.

It appears that Yahoo made the change in an attempt to prevent a mass exodus, with several users reporting that they noticed the feature that sends a copy of incoming messages from one account to another had been disabled in the wake of the spying revelations.

“This is extremely suspicious timing,” Jason Danner, a Yahoo user who has used the service for 18 years, told Associated Press. “That all this…has ceased to function when they’ve been getting a lot of press seems extremely dubious to me.”

Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey a U.S. government directive to build secret software to scan hundreds of millions of emails caused disharmony among senior level executives at the company.

According to the original report by Reuters the initiative led to the departure of Alex Stamos, chief information security officer at Yahoo, in June 2015.

In a brief statement responding to the accusations, Yahoo said: “Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”

The firm subsequently released a statement that read: “The article is misleading. We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”

A message on a Yahoo help forum explains the situation with the feature: “This feature is under development. While we work to improve it, we’ve temporarily disabled the ability to turn on Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses. If you’ve already enabled Mail Forwarding in the past, your email will continue to forward to the address you previously configured.”

In an emailed comment to Newsweek, a Yahoo spokesperson said: "We're working to get auto-forward back up and running as soon as possible because we know how useful it can be to our users. the feature was temporarily disabled as part of previously planned maintenance to improve its functionality between a user's various accounts."

Edit| This article has been updated to include a comment from a Yahoo spokesperson.